A judge in Brazil ordered network operators in the country to block WhatsApp for 72 hours or face a 500k reals/$142k/29m Naira daily fine. It was in Brazil last December as well that a judge ordered WhatsApp to be blocked for a period of 48 hours over non-cooperation by Facebook officals in a criminal investigation only this time it’s about non-cooperation in a drug trafficking case. While the December order was quickly overturned by an Appeals court, it’s not clear if this one was as it was ordered on the 26th of April.
According to The Intercept, “WhatsApp is the most-used app in Brazil, a country of 200 million people (it is now owned by Facebook, the country’s second-most used app). An estimated 91 percent of Brazilian mobile users nationwide — more than 100 million individuals — use WhatsApp to communicate with one another for free (it has 900 million active daily users around the world). Brazilians spent this morning, in the hours before the block took effect, frantically sending each other messages on WhatsApp warning that the service was going down for three days.”
This brings to mind the debate between privacy and security which many see as one that will endure for a long time. Just last month, WhatsApp announced that it had completed an end-to-end encryption of its services such that not even them (WhatsApp staff) can access any messages should they be asked by any government to do that any time. As security risks increase with a growing number of online tools, governments want to make sure they are able to stay ahead of these threats. A clear reminder of this debate is the recent spat between the FBI and Apple. The FBI after attempting to get Apple to unlock an iPhone 5c of a deceased suspect, decided to hire someone to do this successfully. Since then they have shared some of their findings with Apple even though the government has publicly acknowledged that later versions of the iPhone may be difficult to break into. Just last week, the American Director of National Intelligence Mr. James Clapper acknowledged that Edward Snowden’s (The NSA contractor who leaked classified spying information by the government to the public and is now lives in Russia) revelations have sped encryptions by seven years. This means that they didn’t anticipate that rate of encryption by tech companies globally would be this fast and probably didn’t prepare for it.
Coming to Nigeria, at the height of incessant attacks from the Boko Haram, he government increased is surveillance of the citizens by asking everyone to mandatorily register their SIM cards and companies like MTN who did not comply are now battling it out in the form of fines. Unconfirmed reports have it that the Nigerian government tried to block online services belong to secessionist groups like Biafra and it is gradually spreading to other nations across the continent.
The hope is that the private and public sectors can eventually work together on this in future to give online users some sense of privacy while securing them from modern threats as well.